Living on Nothing and Surviving in Brazil

     Living on Nothing and 
Surviving in Brazil

    Close to 27 million
    Brazilians belong to families who have to
    get by on no income at all or monthly earnings that amount to
    less than two minimum wages or 400 reais (US$ 130). A mere 5
    percent of the overall Brazilian population are members of
    families with monthly incomes exceeding 6000 reais (US$ 1933).
    by: Artur


    Eighty seven million Brazilians, of a total of 179 million, belong to families
    that survive on the monthly equivalent of no more than five minimum wages.

    This is one of the findings
    contained in the Family Budget Survey (POF _ Pesquisa de Orçamentos
    Familiares 2002-2003), released May 19 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography
    and Statistics (IBGE) with reference to the period between July, 2002, and
    June, 2003, when the data were gathered. The minimum wage at the time was
    US$ 64.43 (R$ 200.00). This figure includes 26,502,399 Brazilians who get
    by on no income at all or monthly earnings that amount to less than two minimum

    The study also shows that
    89 million Brazilians belong to families that have monthly incomes greater
    than the equivalent of five minimum wages. Of this group, 8,945,013 people,
    that is, approximately 5 percent of the overall Brazilian population, are
    members of families with monthly incomes exceeding 30 minimum wages.

    Around 85 percent of the
    Brazilian population experiences some degree of difficulty making it to the
    end of the month with what they earn. 27.2 percent of them reported great
    difficulty. Families spend 93.26 percent of what they earn just to maintain
    themselves—13.4 percent more than in 1975, according to the IBGE.

    Now and 1975

    The economic situation
    of Brazilian families has gotten a lot worse since 1975. At that time, families
    spent 79.86 percent of their monthly income to maintain themselves; in 2003
    this percentage was up to 93.26 percent.

    As a result, very little
    of what they earn is left over for investments, for example, to buy a home.
    The tax burden on family budgets more than doubled, from 5.27 percent in 1975
    to 10.85 percent in 2003.

    Whereas back then families
    could apply 16.5 percent of their monthly income on investments, this percentage
    dropped to only 4.76 percent in 2003, according to data from the Family Budget

    In Brasília, cattle
    rancher Leon Santos said he believes that there has been "an impoverishment
    of the middle and lower classes." In his opinion it has become more and
    more difficult and expensive to buy basic products. "One begins first
    by eliminating superfluous items, but now necessary items are being cut, too."

    The IBGE study also shows
    that the structure of family expenses was drastically modified between 1975
    and 2003. As a percentage of total expenses, current outlays rose 13.40 percent,
    from 79.86 percent in 1975 to 93.26 percent in 2003. Consumption, which accounted
    for 74.59 percent of total expenses in 1975, was up to 82.41 percent in 2003.

    In the opinion of shopkeeper
    Karina Almeida, from Brasília, the increase in prices messes up people’s
    personal budgets. "Electricity, telephone calls, the supermarket, etc.,
    which are the basics, are increasing in price, and salaries, in general, are
    not keeping up."

    Artur Cavalcante works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press
    agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at

    from the Portuguese by David Silberstein.

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